My wife went to bed early tonight, so after the kids were asleep, I did what I often do when I’m alone at night: get out edits to an article, and put on Michael Mann’s great movie Heat. Having recently watched Miami Vice (which I thought was totally brilliant), and having spent a long week banging out several proposals for new projects, I was in the mood for something stylish and diverting.

I always like Heat, but I noticed two things about it– and more generally, about Mann’s work– this time around.

First, Mann has a terrific ear. Yes, he made Jan Hammer a household name in the 1980s, but despite that, his choice of music for his movies is inspired. I was impressed with the soundtrack to Miami Vice, and the choice of Moby’s “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” at the end of Heat turns an already-strong ending into one of the most amazing movie finales ever.

Second, while Heat, Collateral, and Miami Vice are very much guy movies, what with all the guns and cars and attention to the fine technical details of criminal and police procedure, Mann places tremendous weight on his female characters– and they come through. None of the women in Heat have happy lives, but when you’re working with Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, and Natalie Portman, they’re never merely Symbols of The Evil That Men Do: they’re too good to let their characters collapse into single dimensions. Their work is all the more impressive given how little screen time they actually have, and how economically they have to communicate everything that’s going on with them: Portman’s three brief, wrenching scenes have more emotional complexity than Star Wars I-III, and in her last scene, Brenneman manages to communicate an immense amount of confusion and turmoil just standing still. Really amazing.

Back to editing. Maybe I’ll cue up Infernal Affairs next.

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